‘I want to start my own grown up version of the Brownies’, I said to my boyfriend. (I’d pretty much dropped out of my childhood Brownies group when I realized the uniform was, um, brown and you couldn’t say ‘Oh God!’ without getting the evil eye from our pack leader.) I am pretty sure he rolled his eyes at me in response, but for me that’s a sign of encouragement and I instantly got cracking.
I put a call out on my fledgling blog and 3 weeks later I was sitting in the middle of my shop in Richmond with 15 other women, eating cake and drinking fizzy stuff, talking about life and learning to embroider. It was the first of many such ‘meetings’ and I could not keep up with demand.
When one of the women who came along, Kirsty, suggested that my fake Brownies could be something bigger and better, I listened up. She suggested going the whole hog. Having a clubhouse, a membership program, badges… When she said badges I was all in. I loved badges. I loved her ideas. We became partners in crafty crime. Our craft and friendship club Brown Owls (and an enduring friendship) was born.
Lots of people joined Brown Owls and many of those people had skills and their own bright ideas to share. We made the most of it, planning sessions around people’s want-to-learn wish-lists and encouraging guest teachers like Kirsty’s Aunty Pat (who was very crochet-y) and artist Gemma Jones (who taught us to make undies.)
The thrill of working together, heroing each others’ ideas and skills, and loosening up the reigns became addictive. These meetings were about helping each other out, learning new things, being a beginner (or for some accomplished members, an expert.) They eschewed perfection, competition and comparison, instead focusing on participation, progress and being pals.
I wondered if we could take our Brown Owls to a wider audience. ‘Try it!’ Kirsty advised. We loosened up even more and encouraged people to start their own groups in their own towns. ‘You need to have at least two members, welcome beginners, have somewhere to meet, a skill-sharing approach, and be kind to each other’ we suggested.
Groups began to pop up – in other parts of Melbourne, Brisbane, Launceston, Adelaide, Sydney, Finland, Mongolia. (I really mean it! There was a group in Mongolia for a while!) People began to take the seed of an idea, shape it into something that made sense for their group and make it their own (while honoring the idea of sharing, welcoming and kindness.)
It was a kind of collaborative, palled-up, dream-come-true. Costs were kept low (just enough to cover materials.) We donated our time and effort. We gave advice on everything from how to sew a French Knot to who to talk to about a book proposal and how to get your business noticed by the right media outlets. Pretty much nothing was off-limits.
Meetings were full of learning and happy chatter. Whatever we knew, we shared, figuring that the benefits of helping each other out were so delightful that notions of trade secrets or competitive advantage should most definitely be completely ignored. Helping one another felt good.
People left the meetings chipper and creatively energized, armed with new friendships, new skills, new approaches to life/their work. It was exhausting and energizing. We wanted to do it over and over again.
Interestingly, it seems that this repeat meet urge was not only due to friendship, cake longings or wanting to make more knickers. There were (apparently) neurochemical reasons for these recurring collaborative urges too. We just couldn’t help it, basically.
Positive conversations promote the production of feel-good hormone oxytocin*. More than just our inbuilt hug-drug, and labour sparker, ocytocin apparently switches on the part of our brain that boosts communication and working together. Happy chats chemically promote and nurture collaboration.
‘Behaviors that increase cortisol levels also reduce our conversational intelligence (C-IQ), our ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively, and strategically with others. Behaviors that enable us to connect, collaborate, and co-create will spark oxytocin and boost C-IQ.’
Of course our modern-day, grown-up, fake Brownies-style group are just one example of this positive co-creation in action. The Bloomsbury Set and The Heide Circle elevated collaboration to a fine art, literally (perhaps with a bunch more complex love triangles than Brown Owls ever had, but that’s another discussion.) Josh Homme’s The Desert Sessions, George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic and Broken Social Scene just a tiny few of the musical collectives bouncing great stuff off each other. Then there’s the amazing Country Women’s Association who have a long history of working together creatively to do good things and spark social change (and possibly happy hormones, unbeknownst to them.)
Creating together not only results in surprising or otherwise unattainable project outcomes, it officially boosts our overall creative intelligence and happy hormones (and may even result in friendship, cake and handmade undies!)
* everytime I type oxytocin, I think I’m going to accidentally type oxycontin and everyone will have the urge to go running to watch Celebrity Rehab.